A critically ill Covid-19 patient who is convinced he cheated death thanks to a drugs trial has warned people that the risk from the virus is still very real.
Belfast engineer Brendan Fay (55) is still recovering after being hit hard by Covid-19 in March. He spent a month in hospital, 16 days of which were in sedation on a ventilator in intensive care (ICU) fighting for his life.
As he continues to recover at home, the father-of-three is grateful to his family who took the decision to allow him to take part in the REMAP-CAP study, the results of which were published just last week.
The study which was funded by the Health and Social Care Research & Development Division and conducted by Queen's University, found that treating critically ill Covid patients with the steroid hydrocortisone improves their chances of recovery.
And Brendan who was given the steroid four times a day for a week while in intensive care has no doubt it saved his life.
He said: "Agreeing to the trial was not an easy decision for my family to make but I feel they made a good call for me and they made the call I would have made.
"The question is 'would I be here if I hadn't got the steroids,' and while no one can say for sure, my feeling says maybe not.
"Drug trials are not black magic, they do work and it is a fact that people on them tend to do better than people who aren't. I got lucky to be part of that group."
Brendan's ordeal started at the end of March when he thought he had a tummy bug. He did not have the usual Covid-19 symptoms of a persistent cough, or loss of taste and smell.
His condition deteriorated rapidly and he was so ill that most of what occurred during the month of April is erased from his memory.
He recalled: "I had a sore head and diarrhoea and thought I had a tummy bug.
"My mum is a nurse, so I was brought up to believe you just get on with it and take tablets and care for yourself rather than bother the busy doctors.
"I started feeling ill at the weekend and by the Wednesday which was April 1, I was really struggling to work and realised I needed to lie down.
"The next thing I remember is the blue lights of the ambulance coming on the following Sunday. I don't remember anything from Wednesday until then."
Brendan's temperature had spiked and he was very ill when taken by ambulance to the Mater Hospital on April 5 where, after testing positive for Covid-19, he was transferred to the City Hospital.
From April 8 until 22, he was sedated and intubated in intensive care. His partner Tina Harbinson and three children Leah (29), Declan (27) and Sean (25) were terrified as all they could do was wait at home for a daily phone call from the medical team.
It was on admission to ICU that the critical care consultant in charge, Dr Jon Silversides, who was also the principal investigator of the trial, asked for permission to include Brendan in the steroid study.
Brendan told Sunday Life: "Thankfully I had no awareness of what was going on. I had the easy bit. Declan my son is an engineer and Tina asked his advice and my sister also got involved and in the end they felt that there was nothing to lose.
"I do remember one nurse squeezing my hand now and again and I would squeeze it back as it was the only thing I could do to let them know I'm still here and I'm fighting.
"They did work with my sedation and some of it was scary as it was like I was caught between reality and hallucinating.
"One time I was winning $3m in a casino in Hong Kong and was told that I had to gamble for my life and I also saw myself being carried down a church aisle to be cremated with someone putting their hand in the coffin telling me I would be alright.
"I think in my head there was some sort of awareness of what was going on around me and I knew on some level there was danger to my life. I had a great team looking after me but my family were at home worrying.
"There were two very bad days on April 17 and 18, my family was told my lungs weren't great and they even said my lungs might be mulch.
"On one of those nights my partner Tina actually believed I wasn't coming back from it."
Brendan is convinced that he "came back sooner" because the steroid saved his life.
He came out of ICU on April 22 and left hospital on April 30 when his long, slow recovery began. His body has been very weakened by the trauma of battling Covid-19 and it is only now that he feels he is getting back to some sort of normality.
HSC Research and Development is playing a big part in the battle against Covid-19, and hopes that some of the research funded in Northern Ireland will help to improve outcomes at home and across the globe. Commenting on the drugs trial, Brendan's consultant Dr Silversides who led the research said: "We found that treating critically ill Covid-19 patients with the steroid hydrocortisone significantly improves their chances of recovery.
"We're so thankful for patients like Brendan and his family who gave their agreement for him to take part in the trial. As a result, Brendan was able to benefit from receiving steroids, and we are better able to treat patients in a similar situation from now on."
Brendan has no idea how he got Covid-19 or why it was so severe, as he doesn't fall into any of the vulnerable categories.
Today he has a renewed appreciation of life and having suffered the worst effects of Covid, he pleaded with the public to adhere to governments guidelines on social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands.
He added: "The guidelines are there to help humanity. I would say that the person beside you might not be important in your life but they are someone's mother, sister, brother or father and they are important to someone else.
"Why are the rules so difficult for people to understand or adhere to. It just takes a little bit of human decency and respect for your fellow man.
"Washing your hands, social distancing and wearing a mask are not hard to do."
Meanwhile the Department of Health here confirmed a further 104 positive Covid-19 cases with no deaths on Saturday. East Belfast GAA suspended all activity after one of its members tested positive for the virus.
Measures limiting social interaction between households in the Belfast council area come into effect on Monday.
People living in Ballymena town and postcode areas BT43, BT28 and BT29 have also been given guidance discouraging non-essential journeys and residents in these areas cannot visit other households.
For more information on HSC R&D, please visit: www.research.hscni.net